Certain foods and drinks are intrinsically connected to specific countries or regions of the world. For example, if someone mentions vodka, Russia will probably be the first country that pops into your head, and pizza or pasta will most likely make you think of Italy. In this case, when most people hear yerba mate, they definitely think of Argentina.
However, do you really know what yerba mate is, how to make it, and its benefits? Many people have heard of this caffeinated drink, but few really understand it, and that's why we're going to explain everything you need to know about mate in this article. Keep reading if you want to know all of the details on this South American favorite.
Yerba mate or mate is a traditional tea-like infusion made up of leaves and twigs from the llex paraguariensis plant. This herbal tea comes from the Southern cone of the South American continent and the indigenous people known as the Guaraní were the first to consume it.
Currently, yerba mate is known as a typical Argentine drink since this country is where it gained the most popularity and it is even the official national drink. However, countries like Uruguay, Paraguay, Southern Chile, and Brazil and even Syria, stand out for being places where this infusion is popular.
This beverage is made by wetting the dry leaves in hot, but not boiling, water. Then, it's served with a metal straw, also known as a bombilla in Spanish, and the infusion itself is drunk from a gourd.
Traditionally, the bombilla used to drink yerba mate was made of pure silver. However, these days, the straws are usually made from nickel, stainless steel, or a hollowed reed.
The leaves of the plant are dried, cut, and milled until a powdery mixture known as 'yerba' is achieved — the bombilla functions both as a straw and strainer. The end of the straw that is submerged has a slightly curved shape and small holes that help the liquid to go up when you take a sip and keeps the leaves in the gourd.
According to South American traditions, sharing a single mate gourd with one or more people is a symbol of friendship and togetherness.
Although yerba mate wasn't considered a healing drink from the start, like other herbs, this one has many benefits that are considered therapeutic.
Below, we go over the benefits of this South American herbal beverage that are backed up by scientific research:
The plant that this herbal infusion is made from has many nutrients that are highly beneficial to the body. Here are a few:
Saponins: compounds that give it a slightly bitter taste, are anti-inflammatories, and can even lower cholesterol.
Xanthines: these are stimulant compounds that include caffeine and theobromine.
Caffeic acid derivatives: antioxidant agents also found in some types of tea.
Polyphenols: this encompasses an entire antioxidant group linked to lowering the risk of many health conditions.
Essential amino acids, vitamins, and minerals.
Yerba mate is actually much more stimulating than coffee, even though it contains fewer milligrams of caffeine per cup -85 mg to be exact. This means that it can also give you more energy and make you feel less tired.
Caffeine can also affect the performance of the brain's signaling molecules, which makes it particularly helpful when it comes to strengthening attention span and mental focus.
Some studies suggest that mate improves alertness, short-term memory, and reaction time. Besides, people that habitually consume this herbal infusion become more alert, just like with coffee, but with fewer side-effects.
Besides strengthening mental or psychological performance, the caffeine in yerba mate can also get rid of muscle cramping, physical exhaustion and, even, improve athletic performance.
Likewise, a study on healthy individuals found that when they took a 1 gram capsule of yerba mate, right before exercise, they were able to burn 24% more fat during moderately intense activity. More reliance on fat as an energy source means that carbohydrate reserves aren't used, which leads to better athletic performance.
Many studies suggest that this infusion could help to prevent infections caused by bacteria, parasites, or fungus. Likewise, other research in this area points to the idea that compounds in this beverage could even protect individuals against intestinal parasites.
Studies involving animals show that yerba mate can suppress appetite and speed up the metabolism. This means that it could help to burn body fat, and therefore, aid in weight loss.
Other research with humans suggests that this drink could increase the amount of stored fat burned to get energy. Besides, 12-week studies with human subjects demonstrated that individuals that consumed a certain quantity of this herbal beverage on a daily basis, saw their abdominal fat reduced by 2%.
The saponins found in yerba mate are natural compounds with anti-inflammatory properties. Likewise, they contain small quantities of vitamin C, E, selenium, and zinc -all of which are antioxidants that help to strengthen the immune system and improve overall health.
Laboratory studies done on animals show that this infusion could improve insulin signaling, reduce blood sugar and, as a result, lower the risk of diabetes associated complications.
As we've seen throughout this article, yerba mate contains antioxidants derived from caffeine and polyphenols, which could prevent heart disease.
Although studies have also been done on animals, human studies suggest that this herbal tea could lower cholesterol levels.
Folch, C. (2009). Stimulating Consumption: Yerba Mate Myths, Markets, and Meanings from Conquest to Present. Comparative Studies in Society and History. 52: 6.